Aastha Bahl, the young emerging designer of Lakme Fashion Week Autumn/Winter 2008 launched her label Mistletoe in 2004, and gives fashion freaks a collection of contemporary, off the rack western and indo-western clothes to choose from. This inspiring designer believes in creating ready to wear, fresh, and comfortable clothing that centers on simplicity and elegant style. An insightful interview with this vibrant woman tells us more about her experiences as a new comer, her future plans and a lot more…
Aastha Bahl, the young emerging designer of Lakme Fashion Week Autumn/Winter 2008 launched her label Mistletoe in 2004, giving fashion freaks a collection of contemporary, off the rack western and indo-western clothes to choose from. Aastha designs for what she calls the woman of today – strong, feminine and independent. This inspiring designer believes in creating ready to wear, fresh, and comfortable clothing that centers on simplicity and elegant style. Mistletoe has retailed at many stores like Anonym, Etalage, Zarah, You etc. An insightful interview with this vibrant woman tells us more about her experiences as a new comer, her future plans and a lot more…
So Aastha, just 26, and already a brand under your be
lt! How did it all start?
It started with a passion for fashion and a very supportive family. The rest is history! (Giggles)
Tell us more about your educational background, and who all have you worked with to learn the ropes.
I went to the National Institute of Fashion Technology, New Delhi. While at NIFT, I interned with Rina Dhaka, this was in 2002 and Rina was chosen to do the Grand Finale at the India Fashion Week in Delhi. I got the privilege of assisting her with the finale collection and also developed t-shirt prints for her. After graduation, I worked with designers Shantanu-Nikhil and then Aki Narula. Assisting these designers was a lot of fun and hard work, I got to learn the insides of the fashion industry and there’s nothing compared to hands on experience.
Hmm, some big names from the Indian Fashion Industry? Tell us a nice anecdote - something that has stayed with you throughout those years at NIFT.
Umm can’t think of anything other than the day we met international designer Zandra Rhodes ay NIFT. She just walked down the stairs in all her grandeur (she happens to dress very colorful) and we went up to her and had a little chat.
Do you have any idols?
Thierry Mugler, Alexander Mcqueen, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Roberto Capucci. All these designers inspired me while I was studying fashion.
Tell us more about Mistletoe. How did it start? Didn’t you get cold feet when you thought about venturing out on your own, despite not being able to have enough contacts in the beginning? And most importantly, how is it going?
I’ve always wanted to start my own label, but the right opportunity came when I’d been out of a job for 4 months and my mother put her foot down and said – It’s now or never. Hence the whole process of finding the right label name, registering it etc started and finally Shradha Designs (the company named after Aastha’s mother) started production with one master and one tailor in August. By October, our first range of jackets was ready. Getting cold feet would be an understatement. I was truly terrified and met with some big stumbling blocks, and had no contacts whatsoever. It's October of 2008 now, and we’re still in business and one fashion week down. The going has been extremely tough. We’re still not making much, but the hope is still there, the hard work goes on and the designs are rolling!
What kind of buyers do you have?
We have a domestic buyer. Other than that, we are working on consignment with most stores in India.
You were the emerging designer at the Lakme India Fashion Week, 2008. What was the experience like and what were your key take-aways? Also, how should a young designer go about participating in such prestigious events?
It was the most amazing experience of my life. The energy and the buzz gave the participants and the audience a high. Lakme and IMG had organized workshops with prestigious foreign buyers, for the designers, which were an eye-opener and a great learning experience. It was a well organized event, and a great platform to showcase my designs. What I loved most was the way fellow participating designers were helping each other with everything. It was my debut at the Fashion Week, and thus it will always be very special to me.
As for young designers who want to take their first steps into the industry, all they got to do is prepare a fabulous collection, apply to any one of the fashion weeks, and they will send you the necessary forms to fill. Then send in your entries with the required information/samples/pictures of collection etc. The organizers of the fashion week will get in touch with the selected designers and you’re in. There is a small fee to be paid of course!
For the young fashion aspirants, give us a bit of insight into what it takes to become a successful or great designer? What would be the single most desirable skill besides creativity (I assume that must be a pre-requisite)?
Well one must be a good business person, an excellent networker and a great PR person. So there are 3 basic/most desirable skills to become a successful designer assuming that your product is great and unique. Other than the above, a designer must be extremely hard working, quick and resourceful.
Tell us more about your work – the nitty-gritty, the technicalities, et al.
My collections are usually high on detail, be it prints, textures etc. I like to keep the silhouettes simple and flattering. We make a lot of tunic dresses and dresses, which are a rage right now. We experiment with different print and color combinations, color blocking, paneling etc. We also work a lot with 3D surface texturing, pleating, pin tucking and value additions like patch work, pipings etc.
What is the USP of your work?
Our USP would be surface textures. We don’t really believe in embroideries. Our designs are simple, stylish and contemporary.
What do you think about the fashion schools in India? We all know about NIFT, what about the others?
Fashion institutes like National Institute of Fashion Technology and Pearl Academy of Fashion are the premier fashion institutes of India. Their course curriculum and training are at par with certain fashion schools abroad. The smaller and lesser known institutes have a lot of scope for improvement. I also feel that a more practical and market friendly approach should be taken up by schools, so that the graduating students have a better understanding of the fashion industry and can cope with job challenges in a better way. Market study too should be given a lot of importance. A curriculum must make sure it covers various markets of the world.
How does one get through a fashion school like NIFT, Pearl? Is there an entrance exam or other criteria?
Yes there are entrance exams, which would be the first step. Once you get through the entrance, there is a situation test and then finally, an interview.
Do you see a lot of scope in this industry? Does it take time to establish and errr – make money?
Oh yes!! But it does take a lot of time to get recognition and then to make money. It’s a tough world and only the very resilient succeed.
What do you think about the quality of education in India? Do all the known designers come from NIFT, Pearl etc, or are there others that churn out brilliant designers too?
You know, I don’t think the level of creativity of an individual has anything to do with what school or college one goes to. Though getting the best education can broaden a person’s/designer’s horizons. There are a few designers who have never attended fashion school! The quality of education in India is great at the schooling level and graduation. But I feel the quality of education for post graduation is much better abroad. At least for fashion it is.
Between western and Indian designs, what do you prefer and why? Any particular themes you like?
Well, I’m a true-blue western wear designer. I thoroughly enjoy designing western wear for women in India. I think western designs are more versatile and there’s so much one can play with. I love the Indian designs as well, but in their absolute classic way. Although themes, inspirations etc. keep changing so I can’t really point out my favorites.
Is it true that most designs get attention only when Bollywood (God, how I hate that term) actors endorse it? Off late, I’ve been hearing so much about a design because Shah Rukh Khan or Rani Mukherjee wore it in a movie – Any comments?
Yes, because a layman, who has no clue about fashion or the current trends that are available, can only tell the latest fashions by what the movie stars are wearing. And because movie stars get written about and photographed so much, they kind of carry the trends to the masses.
Like art which is really getting some attention in the west, do you think Indian Fashion will go global too?
Indian fashion has already gone global, with designers like Manish Arora, Aashish N Soni etc. participating at the Paris and NY fashion weeks. Also, the western design houses are turning to India for inspiration. The classic example would be the Hermes collection inspired by Sarees.
Do you get a lot of international interest too for your designs? Do you know whether Indian designers are approached by their big brethren in Rome, Venice, Paris and New York?
I’ve had some international buyers show interest in my designs. Indian designers as a whole are very much approached by the international buyers and some very prestigious ones at that.
What is Indian Designers’ biggest appeal for the westerners?
Our biggest appeal for the westerners would be the textiles and the vast fashion heritage that our country has to offer. Our sense of designing, that is mixing the Indian fashion elements like embroideries, weaves etc. with western designs, creates an outfit that’s very unique and appealing to the westerners.
Let’s do away with the professional rivalry and name some good emerging designers, who you think shall carve a niche for himself/herself in the future? Anyone’s caught your fancy off late?
Interesting question. Well a few names to look out for (besides me of course!) would be Rimzim Dadu, Kallol Dutta, Vivek Karunakaran, Stae by Tapash and Sudhir, Aneeth Arora, Nitin Bal Chauhan and Zubair Kirmani.
Okay, time for some controversial gossip. Homosexuals, Fashion equivalent of “Casting Couch” – myth or reality?
No comments (laughs out loud)
Okay we are almost done here. What are your future plans?
The Lakme Fashion Week in October! Please ask me this question again once the fashion week is over. I’d be in a better position to reveal all about my future plans then.
Good luck with your plans Aastha.
That's all from us folks! Whenever you hear about Aastha or Mistletoe, remember you saw it here first!
Aastha Bahl can be contacted at:
B-148, Okhla Industrial Area
Phase-1, New Delhi: 110020
Telephone: 91-11-40525677, 65690353